Playing a character with a built-in fan base can be daunting, but Lucy Hale is up for the challenge in ABC Family's new drama Pretty Little Liars (premiering Tuesday at 8/7c), The show, adapted from a successful book series, focuses on a group of friends whose Queen B Alison (Sasha Pieterse) goes missing. The clique, which split after Alison disappeared, reunites a year later when the girls mysteriously begin receiving messages from someone who seems to know all their secrets. Hale, who plays 16-year-old Aria, tells TVGuide.com why she relates to her character, what it's like playing the daughter of Charmed's Holly Marie Combs, and why Aria and her English teacher have a dangerous yet undeniable connection.
TVGuide.com: Tell us about Pretty Little Liars.
Lucy Hale: In the first episode, you're introduced to these characters who have dark secrets that can basically ruin their lives. The series is figuring out what happened to Alison and who is threatening us, but also we have our everyday issues. I think that's what's going to hook people. It's got really cute boys, great love stories and you get to see some cool fashion as well.
TVGuide.com: What's Aria like?
Hale: In the pilot, she's coming home from Iceland, where she found herself and became comfortable with who she was. She's very mature for her age and comfortable in her own skin, which I think is good for girls to see because it's kind of rare. She's different; she's quirky. She sort of does her own thing, and she's fine with it.
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TVGuide.com: How do you relate to Aria?
Hale: Growing up I always felt like I was different from the girls my age because I had different interests and was thinking about different things. Aria's like that too. I came from Privileged, where I played a character much different from Aria. She was bubbly and all over the place, so it's cool to get to do something a little bit more subdued and real. This is my favorite style of acting because although everything is heightened and the storylines are out there, the characters are very real.
TVGuide.com: Had you read the books before?
Hale: When I got involved with [the show] I went and bought them all. I just didn't realize how [popular] they were — they have a huge following. I'm on the seventh book now. They're pretty addictive — I can't put them down. It is kind of scary because the fans are so in love with the characters in the book.
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TVGuide.com: Do you feel pressure because of the success of the books?
Hale: I feel like a lot of people don't think we can live up to what these book characters are. Some people are upset because we don't look like the models on the covers. I think everyone's doing a great job because the characteristics are all the same — the trials they go through, the secrets that they keep.
TVGuide.com: Tell me about your love interest, Mr. Fitz, played by Ian Harding.
Hale: I meet this great guy in a restaurant, and think I've met a wonderful person who I connect with really well. Then go to school the next day and, bam, he's my English teacher. We try to stop it. We know it's wrong and we know it can get him in trouble, but we have this undeniable connection and chemistry and can't stay away from each other. It's exciting for Aria, and she has to keep it from everyone. But at the same time she knows how dangerous it is playing with fire.
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TVGuide.com: What's it like working with Holly Marie Combs?
Hale: I was super excited to have her on board because she's been around for a really long time and did Charmed for eight years. She knows how to deal with certain situations, she gives me advice, and she's just really fun.
TVGuide.com: Did you expect all the buzz surrounding the show?
Hale: I kind of expected it because it was a successful book series. I just hope everyone is as excited after it airs.